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Boyer Rickel

Publication Year: 1999

An impressionistic memoir offers images of a life in progress, including scenes from Boyer Rickel’s rural Tempe, Arizona, childhood in the 1950s; his relationship with a physically shrinking father; his eccentric teenage friendships; his growing awareness of his sexuality among young, Hispanic gays; and a trip through Italy with his lover. A personal book, but also wholly universal, Taboo investigates the way one breaks through taboos and becomes a self-realized adult.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii


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pp. 3-26

My earliest memory is of dustballs floating like ghosts along a brown, cracked, concrete floor ... the flash of brass, a doorknob, as I fall ... and Sen-Sen in a red and black paper package on the third level of the bookshelf beside my parents' bed ... Sen-Sen, the smell of utter freshness, herbal and sweet ...


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Man Shrinking

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pp. 29-34

I discovered one afternoon in 1963, two years after my parents' divorce, that a man could shrink. That night my father lay on his side in bed, snoring so loudly it did no good for me to sleep in the living room, a closed door between us, with a pillow over my head. The terrible human ripping sounds, the bellowing gurgles and choking...

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pp. 35-38

"Mr. Man!" the children shriek, racing in a line, as orderly as ducks, down the dirt drive of the property next to ours. They're bare-chested, brown, all giggles and coated in dust. Five boys and a girl, Veronica. Crossing the street, they gather into a busy cluster, atoms bouncing off one another. We stand in a patch of dried Bermuda...

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pp. 39-43

In the late fifties, my boyhood friends and I hid from Nazis. We lived in Tempe, Arizona, at that time a small farming and college town with a single, hooked main drag running south from the dry Salt River bed, which marked the community's northern edge. World War II little more than a decade past, swastikas and Nazi salutes...

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pp. 44-46

"Yes, I'd love to. If Mom will let me:' My first ever overnight, and with William, the sight of whose body had strangely stirred me. Dinner I only partly remember. We sat at a round, massive wooden table and ate something from a mix, a Hamburger Helper casserole or lasagna. His mother was efficient...

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Mr. Todd

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pp. 47-52

The last time I saw Mr. Todd, my high school senior honors English teacher, I was home on Christmas break, 1969, from Oberlin College. I dropped by his house on impulse, pushed the doorbell button, and was greeted by his weathered, complex, expressive face. Bald, short, a squarish trunk atop spindly legs, he possessed a smile...

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Called by Name

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pp. 53-59

...In chairs drawn close to us sat two of my parents' oldest friends. The man was a lawyer, with a long and angular face that made me think of the portrait of Lincoln in my fourth-grade classroom. He'd met his wife, a schoolteacher, at about the time my parents became engaged when they were all in college together in...


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pp. 63-65

"Nothing human disgusts me unless it's unkind." Mercy, how that line thrilled me. This is what the writer must aspire to, I thought, twisting it slightly in my mind: nothing human is beyond me .... The line was delivered, circa 1964, by Hannah (played by Deborah Kerr), who tended her dying poet-father in a village on the...

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To Dusk

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pp. 66-67

"And then it dawned on me .... " I think of the accretions of light that my friends and I could not see but could not deny as we awaited sunrise following summer all-night parties, our parents away on family business or one of their "no kids" holidays. Between our town and Phoenix to the north there was a small desert park. A bubbling of red rock hills,...

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pp. 68-81

My father lives in a nursing home. Over eighty, with pure white feathery hair, he sits curled up like a snail, except he has no shell to shape or protect him . Instead, from the inside, his spine, ever tightening, locks him in a twisted forward dive over his own lap. His recliner must be tilted far back so that he can look out at the...

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The Touch

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pp. 72-74

"Some people just have it," my young friend, a former poetry student, tells me. We've poked our heads into a blanket-draped closet that he calls his grow room. He's rigged it up with special lights on timers and a fan. "People used to say 'green thumb.' Now it's vibrations, So-and-so has the right vibrational level, no kidding," he says,...

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pp. 75-76

I'd stepped onto that bus in Phoenix feeling gigantically ready for the world to fill me. Twenty, tall and lean, college-savvy, in my beloved worn jeans and faded green corduroy shirt. I strode to the last open pair of seats, each thump of my boot heels like a shot of adrenaline all through me. I was ready for this slow trip cross-country...

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pp. 77-78

A nature photographer once repositioned a branch he couldn't quite reach with his camera lens. On it a nest, a bird, a bit of wing-beating beauty he wished to capture. If he could just lower the branch six inches, the angle would be perfect, the mother bird, her tireless feeding of the little ones, beaks gaping upward. He'd reattach...

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pp. 79-81

They were once the flesh and bone of him. Our beloved friend. Of course, the flesh and bone were not him, even when alive. I rubbed the ashes, gritty white and gray granules, firmly between my fingers; their edges could draw blood...


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Brown Boys

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pp. 85-114

I find it impossible to remember the first dark-skinned boy, the one that led to another that led to another, from the mid- 1970s to the early eighties. As well to begin with Pablo in spring of 1975. Three angels, I thought instantly upon entering Jekyll and Hyde's that night, spotting the three lovely dark boys grouped opposite...

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Reading the Body

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pp. 115-133

Across from me sits a dark-haired young man, perhaps seventeen, whose plain round face is marked by a mild outbreak of acne. His eyes, large and brown, pass over me easily, then out the train window, as I settle into my seat. His clothes strike me as charmingly typical...


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pp. 135

E-ISBN-13: 9780299162634
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299162603

Publication Year: 1999